I believe in writing real, flawed protagonists.
I’m overweight, and some of my characters are too. And that’s okay.
My friends: Noooo! Don’t say that! You’re not fat!
They mean well. They assure me I’m pretty, etc., etc. But they never believe my reply.
Me: I know I’m overweight. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just a fact.
No one believes this. Obviously, I’d prefer to be skinny. But, for real, I’m not upset about my weight.
The assumption is that being overweight is bad. And not just for your health. Like it’s somehow a reflection on your character. As if you have less value if you’re—gasp—fat.
Fun fact: I live in southern Arizona. In the Hispanic culture I’ve observed, it’s perfectly acceptable to call someone Gordo or Gorda, meaning “fatty.” It’s a pet name. Or you can call them Flaco or Flaca, meaning “skinny.” And sometimes, you call the fat guy “Flaco” and the skinny guy “Gordo,” kind of as an ironic nickname.
The point being, it’s not really an insult. But if you call someone “estupido,” that’s hurtful. Meanwhile, we call our friends “you dork” or “stupid” in a teasing, loving way when they do something dumb. And it’s not an insult. Not really. Obviously no one wants to be stupid, but if we do something dumb, most of us can laugh and wave it off. It doesn’t define us.
For me, it’s like that with being overweight. Sure, I don’t want to be fat. But I don’t hate myself for it or beat myself up over it. It doesn’t make me less of a person.
I also don’t brag about being overweight. I don’t say, “Ha! I’m better than you losers because…” fill in the blank with “I don’t care what people think” or “I’m beautiful just as I am” or heaven forbid “guys like a girl with curves.”
I’ve accepted what I am. But that doesn’t mean I intend to stay that way. It’s kind of like how I’ve accepted that I stink at basketball. I just laugh when I throw a massive airball. But that doesn’t mean I stop trying to make a basket. I do try. But I’m not frustrated when I fail.
I also know that the odds are stacked against me. I’ve included a picture of me (photo credit: Darin Wallentine) two and a half years ago, when I was a varsity softball player. (Believe it or not, I hated myself for how “fat” I was then. Yeesh. Standards are high in sports.) Now, I don’t look like that anymore. A few things happened. One, I injured my throwing wrist, permanently damaging it, and I couldn’t play anymore after one semester in college.
Two, I’ve been sick. Not in the “oh, yeah, I was puking” sort of sick, but in the “I’ve been randomly fainting for months” sort of sick, where light activity (beyond sitting and writing) easily wipes me out and I have to sleep for like the next 15 hours. I lost count of how many times I ended up in the hospital or woke up surrounded by EMTs last semester. (When you lose consciousness for several minutes in a public place, people freak out and call 911. Really, guys. You can just leave me there. I’ll probably wake up in five to ten minutes.)
I physically can’t exercise much. And no one knows exactly what’s wrong with me, other than a whacked-up thyroid. (Which can also cause weight gain.) So, yeah. Odds not so good for thin and spry.
But I’m still trying to eat right… most of the time. I go for walks. I’m not mad at myself, but I’m also not just giving up.
I think this is a problem in many of our lives for a lot of things other than weight. We love to go to extremes. Either, “Yeah, I’m mean, so get over it,” or “Oh my gosh, I absolutely hate myself. I’m the most awful person in the world.”
Guys, you can have a flaw and not hate yourself for it, without accepting it as a forever aspect of who you are.
I’m almost twenty. I always wanted to have a book published while I was in my teens. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. (We’re not counting those horrendous self-published works I put on Amazon under a pseudonym in high school.) But I worked hard. I made good progress. So I’m not upset with myself. I’ll keep trying.
Whatever “that” thing is for you, whether it’s weight or lack of basketball prowess, don’t beat yourself up. But also, don’t give up. You can accept yourself just as you are while also pushing on toward better, healthier things.
Meanwhile, I’m going to be sitting on my a-bit-too-cushy bottom, writing lovable, flawed characters, flabby thighs and all.